Erasmus Darwin Criticism - Essay

James Venable Logan (essay date 1936)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Poetry,” in The Poetry and Aesthetics of Erasmus Darwin, Princeton University Press, 1936, pp. 93-147.

[In the following essay, Logan discusses at length Darwin's poetic merits, considering first the poet's occasional verse and continuing on through Darwin's three major works of poetry: The Loves of the Plants, The Economy of Vegetation, and the posthumously published Temple of Nature.]

We, therefore, pleas’d, extol thy song,
          Though various, yet complete,
Rich in embellishment, as strong,
          And learn’d as it is sweet.

William Cowper: TO DR DARWIN

Let these, or such as these, with just...

(The entire section is 20421 words.)

Desmond King-Hele (essay date 1963)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Temple of Nature,” in Erasmus Darwin, Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1963, pp. 120-32.

[In the following essay, King-Hele offers an assessment of The Temple of Nature, and states that the poem is evidence that Darwin, although a minor poet, deserves to hold a distinguished place among his eighteenth-century literary contemporaries.]

In the mud of the Cambrian main
          Did our earliest ancestor dive:
From a shapeless albuminous grain
          We mortals our being derive.

Grant Allen, Ballade of Evolution

Darwin's last poem, The Temple of Nature; or The Origin of Society, is largely devoted...

(The entire section is 3678 words.)

James Harrison (essay date 1971)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Erasmus Darwin's View of Evolution,” in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 32, No. 2, April - June, 1971, pp. 247-64.

[In the following essay, Harrison focuses on Darwin's emerging ideas on the evolutionary process.]

Every historian of evolutionary ideas dutifully acknowledges Erasmus Darwin's distinguished right to be included in the roll of those who anticipated The Origin of Species in some way; even his grandson includes him in a footnote to his prefatory Historical Sketch.

It is curious how largely my grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, anticipated the views and erroneous grounds of opinion of Lamarck...

(The entire section is 7463 words.)

Donald M. Hassler (essay date 1973)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Influence of a Comic Materialist on the Romantics,” in Erasmus Darwin, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1973, pp. 95-113.

[In the following essay, Hassler argues that the major literary figures of the Romantic movement—Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, Keats, and Byron—were influenced considerably by Darwin's writings, as they reacted to his scientific ideas, his tone of comic defense, and his use of language.]

Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither:
Ripeness is all.

—William Shakespeare, King Lear

To endure the triumph of life and to settle for only that is very difficult for bumptious man to do....

(The entire section is 8278 words.)

Clive Bush (essay date 1974)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Erasmus Darwin, Robert John Thornton, and Linnaeus' Sexual System,” in Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3, Spring, 1974, pp. 295-320.

[In the following excerpt, Bush considers the effect of Darwin's poetical interpretation of the ideas contained in Linnaeus' Sexual System on the pioneering botanical engravings in Dr. Robert John Thornton's New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus (1797-1807).]

Between the years 1797 and 1807 Dr. Robert John Thornton produced his masterwork, A New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus—a publication of enormous size devoted to celebrating the science of botany through...

(The entire section is 6282 words.)

Desmond King-Hele (essay date 1983)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Shelley and Erasmus Darwin,” in Shelley Revalued: Essays from the Gregynog Conference, edited by Kelvin Everest, Leicester University Press, 1983, pp. 129-46.

[In the following essay, King-Hele argues that Darwin's scientific, religious, and political ideas, as revealed in his poetry, strongly influenced the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.]

In the 1790s Erasmus Darwin would have needed no introduction: he was rated a great poet and respected as an eminent scientist; and he enjoyed a legendary reputation as a physician. Today, however, Darwin does need some introduction, and paradoxically it is because he was a giant who strode too easily across...

(The entire section is 7646 words.)

Desmond King-Hele (essay date 1986)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Erasmus Darwin,” in Erasmus Darwin and the Romantic Poets, Macmillan, 1986, pp. 4-34.

[In the following excerpt, King-Hele provides a brief overview of Darwin's works.]

… It is in biology, however, that Darwin is best known as a scientist, for his ideas on biological evolution (as we now call it) recorded in Zoonomia (1794). He had been convinced of the truth of evolution for more than twenty years and he argues confidently. He first points out the great changes produced in animals naturally, ‘as in the production of the butterfly with painted wings from the crawling caterpillar; or of the respiring frog from the subnatant tadpole’; and also...

(The entire section is 3985 words.)

Maureen McNeil (essay date 1986)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Scientific Muse: The Poetry of Erasmus Darwin,” in Languages of Nature: Critical Essays on Science and Literature, edited by L. J. Jordanova, Rutgers University Press, 1986, pp. 159-203.

[In the following essay, McNeil explores the historical and cultural background against which Darwin endeavored to combine science and poetry.]

The second half of the eighteenth century witnessed a flourishing of provincial culture in Britain. Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), who, amongst other things, was a medical writer and practitioner, a poet, an inventor, and a theorist of education and agriculture, was a central figure in this blossoming. He was a founder of some of...

(The entire section is 12018 words.)

Maureen McNeil (essay date 1987)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Industrialisation, Poetry, and Aesthetics,” in Under the Banner of Science: Erasmus Darwin and His Age, Manchester University Press, 1987, pp. 31-58.

[In the following essay, McNeil contends that as Darwin celebrated the industrial and scientific advances of the late eighteenth century, he also expressed in his poetry an overall sense of optimism regarding the power and possibilities of all of humanity.]

In both the pregnancy of the mythical image and the clarity of the scientific formula, the everlastingness of the factual is confirmed and mere existence pure and simple expressed as the meaning which it forbids.


(The entire section is 12180 words.)

Desmond King-Hele (essay date 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Disenchanted Darwinians: Wordsworth, Coleridge and Blake,” in Wordsworth Circle, Vol. 25, No. 2, Spring, 1994, pp. 114-18.

[In the following essay, delivered at the Wordsworth Summer Conference in the U.K. in 1993, King-Hele argues that Darwin's poetic style and scientific convictions significantly influenced the works of the major writers of the Romantic era—namely Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, and Blake.]

I have to begin with something that should be well known but is not, namely that Erasmus Darwin was regarded as the greatest English poet of the time when Wordsworth and Coleridge were in their early twenties. Darwin gained this high...

(The entire section is 4327 words.)

Edward S. Reed (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Frankenstein's Science,” in From Soul to Mind: The Emergence of Psychology from Erasmus Darwin to William James, Yale University Press, 1997, pp. 38-59.

[In the following excerpt, Reed examines the essence and impact of Darwin's contribution to the alternative psychological theory referred to as fluid materialism—a belief that the human mind, and indeed life itself, can be understood within the framework of natural science.]

… Erasmus Darwin's Zoonomia (the first edition appeared in 1792-94, but many subsequent editions were published all over Europe) launched a true alternative psychology, later popularized in his poem The Temple of...

(The entire section is 1368 words.)